CS305 Topic Introduction to Ethics

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1 CS305 Topic Introduction to Ethics Sources: Baase: A Gift of Fire and Quinn: Ethics for the Information Age CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 1

2 What is Ethics? A branch of philosophy that studies priciples relating to right and wrong. It seeks to address questions such as What do people think is right? What does do the right thing mean? How should people act? What rules or laws should we have? CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 2

3 What is Ethics (cont.) Goal: To help people to make moral decisions. It assumes that people are rational and free to choose how they will act. It can be used to describe how people do act or how people should act. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 3

4 But... Negative Arguments: There are no universal norms of right and wrong. Ethical debates are disagreeable and pointless. We are all well-meaning and intelligent people Each person may decide right and wrong for himself or herself: What s right for you may not be right for me We can disagree on moral issues CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 4

5 Why Study Ethics? Positive Arguments: Not everyone can do what they want Must respect other people and their values. Common wisdom not always adequate; need to be prepared to face future ethical decisions. Everybody shares the core values of life. Ethics provides bases to make best rational decisions. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 5

6 Ethical Theories Many of them: Approximately 2,000 years of organized literature concerned with ethics Many famous philosophers contributed: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, etc. Kenneth Laudon [1995] categorized ethical theories with Three questions, six answers. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 6

7 Question One: What is Goodness"? Answer 1 (Phenomenologist) It is a higher order, and it is given. One must understand the abstract concepts of right and wrong, and act accordingly. Answer 2 (Positivist) It is whatever we make of it. We have to derive ethical principles for ourselves according to our observations of the real world. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 7

8 Question Two: What does Acting Ethically Mean? Answer 1 (Deontologist) Acting ethically means respecting one's duties and obligations. Each single act is itself good or bad, regardless of its consequences. Answer 2 (Teleologist) Acting ethically means acting in such a way that the outcome is good. An act can be judged only by its consequences. No act is a priori good. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 8

9 Question Three: What is the Scope of Morality? Answer 1 (Collectivist) Ethical standards make sense only if they equally apply to everyone. Answer 2 (Individualist) Nobody should be committed to accepting ethical standards; individuals should set their own rules through self-analysis and reflection. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 9

10 A Few Ethical Systems Kantianism Utilitarianism Ethical Egoism Subjective Relativism Cultural Relativism Social Contract Theory Divine Command Theory CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 10

11 Kantianism Attributed to Immanuel Kant ( ). Focus on the rightness of moral rules ( good will ); disregard emotional feelings and consequences. Founded on the view that all people are fundamentally rational beings, and can derive moral rules from the logic of the situation and act according to the rules. Kant s Criteria: Can the rule be universally applied to everyone? Does the rule treat people as ends, not means? CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 11

12 Examples Some Valid Rules: Do not kill, Do not lie, Do not steal, Follow the laws. An Invalid Rule: Get this work done, whatever it takes. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 12

13 Examples (cont.) Question: Can a person in an extreme situation make a promise with the intention of breaking it later? Proposed Rule: I may make promises with the intention of later breaking them. Analysis: Universalizing the Rule: Everyone may make and break promises. This rule would make promises unbelievable, contradicting desire to have promise believed. The rule is flawed. The answer is No. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 13

14 Critiques on Kantianism Arguments For: Rational Produces universal moral guidelines Treats all persons as moral equals Arguments Against: It allows no exceptions to moral rules Sometimes no rule adequately characterizes an action There is no way to resolve a conflict between rules CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 14

15 Examples Revisit Rule: Do not kill. What if it s on a battlefield? Rule: Do not lie. What if not lying will lead to bad consequences? CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 15

16 Utilitarianism A consequentialist theory. Utilitarianism decides whether an act or rule is "right" depending on whether it results in the increase of the aggregate happiness (or utilities ). Act utilitarianism Judging the benefits of an single act. Rule utilitarianism Judging the benefits of all actions that follow the rule. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 16

17 Example Problem: State wants to replace a curvy stretch of highway: 150 houses would have to be removed Some wildlife habitat would be destroyed Analysis: Costs: $31 million (compensation for homeowners and wildlife habitat, plus construction cost) Benefits: $39 million savings in driving costs Conclusion: Benefits exceed costs. It s a good action. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 17

18 Example 2 August 2003, Blaster worm infected thousands of Windows computers. Soon after, someone wrote a good worm Nachi, which Took control of vulnerable computer Located and destroyed copies of Blaster Downloaded software patch to fix security problem Used computer as launching pad to try to infect other vulnerable PCs Proposed Rule: If I can write a helpful worm that removes a harmful worm from infected computers and shields them from future attacks, I should do so. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 18

19 Example 2 Evaluation Who would benefit: People who do not keep their systems updated Who would be harmed People who use networks People who s computers are invaded by buggy antiworms System administrators Conclusion: Harm outweighs benefits. The action is wrong. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 19

20 Critiques on Utilitarianism Arguments For: Focuses on practical goodness Comprehensive; can include exceptional situations Arguments Against: Requires aggregating all consequences on a single scale Does not recognize or respect individual rights. (A minority group could be sacrificed for the greater happiness of the majority.) CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 20

21 Subjective Relativism The idea: There are no universal moral norms. Each person defines right/wrong independently. If I think it is right, then that makes it right. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 21

22 Subjective Relativism Arguments for: Gives everyone a right to define goodness. Eliminates all further moral debate. Arguments against: No distinction between doing what is right and doing whatever you want. We can never judge the acts of another person. Ethics is not based on reason or principle. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 22

23 Cultural Relativism What is right and wrong depends upon a society s actual moral guidelines. These guidelines vary from place to place and from time to time. A particular action may be right in one society at one time and wrong in other society or at another time. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 23

24 Cultural Relativism Arguments For: Different social contexts demand different moral guidelines; it is arrogant for one society to judge another. Arguments Against: Doesn t explain how moral guidelines are determined. Provides no way out for cultures in conflict. Because many practices are acceptable does not mean any cultural practice is acceptable. Societies do, in fact, share certain core values. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 24

25 Ethical Egoism The Idea: Each person acts out of self-interest. Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged & The Fountainhead Focus on your long-term best interest. What keeps society from falling into anarchy with everyone screwing everyone? Personal character traits become important Reputation, trust, reliability, virtue, etc. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 25

26 Ethical Egoism Arguments For: Most people naturally act in their own self-interest. Society as a whole benefits when each individual puts self-interest first. Capitalism: The baker sells bread out of self-interest. Each individual knows what is in his best interest, so he/she should decide. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 26

27 Ethical Egoism Arguments Against: Many people do not act in their own long-term best interest. Examples Other ethical systems might save us from our ourselves. Some people tend to gain power. They use their power to get more power. Some people are naturally superior. The weaker people resent the successes of the strong, superior winners. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 27

28 Social Contract Theory Individuals implicitly accept a Social Contract, on the condition that others follow the rules as well. Individuals act within a sphere of freedom, as long as the set of rules are respected. The social contract rules are established simply to enable everyone the benefits of social living. They center on respecting natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Everyone benefits when everyone bears the burden of following certain rules. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 28

29 Kinds of Rights According to John Locke ( ), there are three natural rights: life, liberty, and property. Other Classifications: Negative Rights (Liberties) The right to act without interference. Positive Rights (Claim-Rights) An obligation of some people to provide certain things for others. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 29

30 Example Bill owns a chain of DVD rental stores. He collects information about rentals from customers and sells customer profiles to direct marketing firms. Are Bill s actions wrong? Evaluation: Bill s rights vs. customers rights vs. marketing firms rights Who owns information about transaction? CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 30

31 Critiques on Social Contract Theory Arguments For: Framed in the language of rights. Without common agreement, rational people may act out in self-interest. Provides clear analysis of certain government actions. E.g. Those who do not follow the rules will be punished. Arguments Against: Conflicting rights problem May be unjust to people who are incapable of following (not deliberately breaking) the rules CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 31

32 Divine Command Theory Based on the idea that good actions are those aligned with the will of God and bad actions are those contrary to the will of God. God s will has been revealed to us We can use the holy books as moral decision-making guides. Judaism: Torah Christianity: Bible Islam: Koran CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 32

33 Divine Command Theory Arguments For: God is all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful We d better do what he says! God s authority is higher than human-made ethical system CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 33

34 Divine Command Theory Arguments Against: There are many different interpretations of God s word who is right? We live in a multicultural, secular society. The holy books don t apply to modern technological issues. Bible doesn t mention Internet Based on obedience, duty and not reason. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 34

35 Discussion Questions What are some examples of contemporary technology issues for which our society s moral guidelines seem to be nonexistent or unclear? (Ethical vs Legal) Can you give examples where an action may be legal but unethical, or vise versa? Do (or should) organizations have ethics? If so, who make them? And who are affected employees? customers? the society? CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 35

36 Discussion Questions Which of the following rights should be considered legitimate positive rights by our society? The right to a minimum standard of living The right to housing The right to health care The right to education (K-12 or higher ed?) The right to a paying job The right to two months of vacation each year CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 36

37 Discussion Questions Examples of conflicts between positive rights of one person and negative rights of another person. CS305-Spring 2010 Ethics 37

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